Are Millennials the Cure for Compassion Fatigue in Long-Term Care?

February 25, 2019
Young female nurse taking elderly womans blood pressure

Compassion fatigue—when nurses, aides or others working in long-term care, including senior care homes and nursing homes, lose their ability to feel compassion for residents—is an ongoing problem in long-term care. And it’s about to get worse. Trends point toward a perfect storm of factors coming together to exacerbate the situation, including more people needing care and not enough staff to provide it. Many long-term care facilities are struggling to find and retain quality employees, putting additional pressure on already overworked nurses and other staff.

The fatigue can impact employees’ work. It often results in reduced productivity, lower self-confidence and a decrease in quality of care, leading to high turnover. 

The problem occurs over time due to long hours, work stress, working with residents who have deteriorating health care conditions and other on-the-job challenges.

Are millennials—the demographic group known for its atypical approach to work and working environments—the answer?


At least 70% of people over 65 will need long-term care services and support at some point in their lives, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center says roughly 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day, increasing the need for employees in the industry. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 15% increase in jobs for registered nurses between 2016 and 2026. That’s 1.1 million new nurses needed across healthcare, including long-term care. 

Long-term care facilities must maintain adequate staffing levels to ensure quality care. This includes having enough staff available if someone calls in sick, is on vacation or quits. For many facilities, covering planned and unplanned staff absences can be a problem because of their limited pool of employees. 

Meanwhile, facilities are facing a significant problem with turnover. Attrition rates in long-term care range from 55% to 75% for nurses and aides, and sometimes up to 100% for aides, according to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News

The impact of turnover on an organization’s bottom line is significant and measurable—by some estimates it can be upwards of 30% of an employee’s annual salary. So, if a caregiver’s compensation is $30,000 annually, the cost of replacing that position can be $10,000. Compounding the employment problem is the often strenuous work. With the average age of a nurse today nearly 50 years old, younger workers are needed to fill staffing vacancies.


Some good news is that millennials could provide a solution to staffing woes. Millennials are:

  • Nearly twice as likely as baby boomers to choose a career in nursing. 
  • 60% more likely to become registered nurses than Gen Xers.
  • Interested in jobs that have a real purpose.
  • A driving force behind workplace change.
  • Willing to leave if they’re not happy with their job, its perks or don’t have a flexible work environment.

Millennials are constantly seeking purpose in their careers while wanting to know how their jobs help them advance in the workplace. This challenges long-term care facilities to reach out and engage millennials to fill staffing positions. 

Doing so requires organizations to treat this generation differently from its predecessors. Long-term care facilities can appeal to millennials through employee recognition programs that show appreciation for their work and contributions. Other ways to attract and retain these workers is to provide a work environment that encourages collaboration, offers on-the-job socialization among staff and provides millennials latitude to make decisions. 


Group purchasing organizations (GPOs) offer proven staffing solutions for long-term care. Their established relationships with staffing agencies can fill short- and long-term needs for skilled nurses, aides or other positions. These agencies employ millennials and others who have experience working with long-term care residents. 

For facilities that want to hire employees directly, GPOs can handle the background checks and other human resources (HR) processes so administrators can focus on other priorities. In addition, GPOs can provide training and recommend programs to help mitigate compassion fatigue, fostering higher retention and helping improve a facility’s bottom line. Even a 10% reduction in turnover can save tens of thousands of dollars per facility.

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